FT PIERCE (CBSMiami/AP) – An overnight fire at a mosque in Fort Pierce was intentionally set.
That’s according to the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office which said video captured at the Fort Pierce Islamic Center shows a person approach the east side of the building just moments before a flash is seen and the fire starts.
The sheriff’s office said the man was riding a Harley Davidson style motorcycle, possibly with saddlebags. He was wearing jeans, with some sort of embroidery on the back pockets, a button-downed shirt and a booney-style hat.
Immediately after the flash, the suspect could been seen waving his arm, indicating he may have been burned.
Ariana Borras lives nearby. She’s sickened by the arson fire.
“There have been bad people here, but not everyone here is a terrible person, not everyone here is out to get Americans,” said Borras.”It’s spreading more hate. It’s spreading more hate, more racism and it’s not fair to make people from this mosque relocate to somewhere else.”
Another neighbor figures the incidents were sparked by misplaced anger about terrorism.
“I think it’s very sad. I don’t necessarily agree with some of the stuff that’s come out of the church, like most of our nation, but I don’t think it’s the building that caused that. It just saddens me,” said Bonnie LaSala.
Members of the Islamic community call this an act of terror.
“He terrorized our community,” said Wilfredo Ruiz with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Not only did it happen on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but on the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha.
Eid al-Adha is the second of two major holidays in Islam.The four-day holiday commemorates when God appeared to Abraham in a dream and asked him to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience.
“This mosque was on fire on 9/11 at 11:49 p.m. Whether this is retaliation or some type of vengeance, that’s unacceptable,” said Ahmed Bedier with United Voices for America.
More possible fuel in this arson, this is the same mosque that Pulse nightclub gunman Omar Mateen once attended.
Forty-nine people were killed, 53 were wounded in the June 12th attack by Mateen who was shot and killed by a SWAT team which stormed the Orlando nightclub just after 5 a.m. to rescue more than a dozen hostages. Mateen was buried at the Muslim Cemetery of South Florida in Hialeah Gardens.
As for the mosque, it’s not the first time it has seen trouble since the Orlando attack.
A few weeks after the nightclub shooting, a man was beaten outside the mosque, according to Sheriff Ken J. Mascara. Early on July 2nd, deputies were called by a man who said someone was trying to burglarize a vehicle. Arriving deputies found a man bleeding from the mouth who told them he was approached by someone who “asked him what he was doing and then punched him several times in the face and head.”
The man was stopped by deputies and arrested a short time later.
CAIR said in a statement that a man in a truck had stopped outside the mosque earlier that day and made slurs, including, “you Muslims need to get back to your country.”
Mateen’s father is among the roughly 100 members that attend the mosque which has received threats in the past.
The sheriff’s office has not made any arrests in connection to the fire.
“It is worrisome that our community have fallen victim of another hate crime. This time another mosque has been targeted in a crime that could have easily taken the life of any worshiper. Only one hour prior to the fire the building was occupied. Our prayers are with the Ft. Pierce Islamic Center community for all the difficulties they have endured this year,” said CAIR-Florida in a statement.
The St. Lucie Sheriff’s Office has yet to declare it a hate crime, but will explore it.
“We do not have evidence right now that says it’s a hate crime,” said Maj. D. Thompson. “Of course with what is going on, of course because this is a place of worship and of course because this incident occurred on the anniversary of 9/11, we’re going to explore that.”
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